When I was younger, the last thing I thought I would be when I grew up was a writer. It wasn’t because I didn’t like to write, because creating stories from my imagination and getting them down on paper was always an outlet for me, but because I simply didn’t know it was a viable career. I never really thought about the writer behind the books I would read. They always just … existed.
I’m not sure if this is normal, but I took a lot for granted growing up and I never really stopped to question much. Everything in my world existed because, well, it did. End of story.
It was a wonderfully naïve period that I often wish I could go back to, especially when the world seems too dark, too cold, too mean to navigate. Now, every time I pick up a book, I can’t help but think about the writer’s story. How did they get here? What was their querying process like? How long did it take them from idea inception to store shelves? Did they ever suffer any creative set backs?
Where they always meant to be writers?
If you would have asked me at 15, I would have told you that my career trajectory had only one possible outcome: Animator for Walt Disney Feature Animation (now Walt Disney Animation Studios.)
I grew up idolizing brilliant Disney animators like Glen Keane — who was responsible for Ariel from The Little Mermaid, Beast from Beauty and the Beast, and the title characters in Aladdin, Pocahontas, Tarzan, and Rapunzel from Tangled — and Andreas Deja, who animated Roger Rabbit from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Hercules from Hercules, and some of the company’s most prominent villains, like Scar from The Lion King, Jafar from Aladdin, and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. My favorite presents at Christmas were always “The Art Of…” books of whatever was that year’s newest Disney Classic.
My dream was the go to CalArts and I would be working on a new classic animated Disney film within my first year because I was young and
stupid ambitious and 15, an age where anything was still possible.
Until sophomore year art class with Mr. Johnson.
I wasn’t one of the offbeat art kids. Probably because they were too unique and weird (read: real) and I was too far in the closet to be confronted with such realness on a daily basis. Not to mention I was entirely too caught up in the idea of popularity (not that I was popular…in fact, it was quite the opposite. I had two friends my sophomore year, and one of them was a foreign exchange student who I’m pretty sure hated me.) I wanted so badly to be accepted into the popular group that I went out of my way to stay away from the art kids.
Naturally, they progressed while I stayed in my room at home, without friends, and doodled and sketched and mapped out my own retelling of a classic fairytale that (then Disney CEO) Michael Eisner would discover once I got into CalArts and throw it into instant development because it was just too good.
Then, one day, during the Painting Unit in art class, I was having trouble painting my house, because for some reason, we had to paint our houses. Mr. Johnson never taught technique. He never taught us what brushes to use, how to mix paints, how to approach the canvas, treat the canvas, how to gain perspective on the canvas. All I remember was him walking around giving vague pointers and narrowing his eyebrows at those who couldn’t understand his hippie, judgy style of “teaching.”
I was getting particularly frustrated because I had never painted with acrylics before, let alone on a canvas, and my “house” looked more like a pee-colored blob against a blueish gray background.
I might have been a tad irate, and began to express my anger, how I didn’t know what I was doing.
“What are you doing in this class?” Mr. Johnson asked, his arms folded over his mid-life crisis-shaped beer belly.
“I want to build up my portfolio to apply to schools for animation,” I said, perhaps with a bit too much sass.
“Why?” His eyes were accusing. His grayish ponytail was draped on his shoulders and I wanted to take a pair of nearby scissors and
stab him snip it off. “You suck. You’re not going anywhere. Art is not for you.”
I will never forget those words.
You never forget when a teacher, someone who is supposed to inspire and instill wisdom in you, tells you that you “suck.”
You might think I’m making this up, but those were his exact words: “You suck.”
A switch was flipped. I was crushed. I stopped drawing all together. I gave up hope that I would ever become an animator.
Because I sucked.
And so my lifelong dream died. I eventually decided to pursue a major in film and TV communications, and had all intentions of doing so once I started my freshman year at Ithaca College, but then I took two creative courses and I fell in love.
I could be abstract. I could get out all of my angsty feelings. And I could do it without competing with every other film major wannabe.
But I never stopped thinking about what could have been.
My life would have been completely different. Who knows what could have happened had I gone to California. All I know is that I’m happy with exactly how my life turned out, even though I wish I had taken art courses and pursued that passion on the side more than just the occasional sketch.
Recently, I was going through some of my old things that I had left at my mom’s house, I came across a sketch book that I had in college, that I would draw in every so often. I never gave up on my dream to create my own fairytale; maybe some day I’ll write a middle grade fairytale based on the characters I drew in that sketchbook.
These are some of the sketches for “The Other Princess,” the original fairytale I was writing — and sketching the characters for — in college, in 2006. They’re not much, but it reminds me of the dream I used to have…
I really tried to work on proportions with this, but without any real training, I just had to rely on my eye. Faulty, but she’s cute. She was the heroine of my fairytale:
This is her again. Her look was based off of my cousin, Adriana. The hands are weird, though. So is her body position:
This is a close up of her (extremely awkward, apparently) face. #ScaryEyes! #IDontKnowWhatIWasThinking:
This was one of the villains of the fairytale. Her design was based on my friend Dinah:
The main villain, through which all evil was dispensed. Very Maleficent-inspired. But also, WHAT is with her hands? I clearly couldn’t draw hands:
THIS was my favorite. Probably because I enjoyed looking at him (yeah, I totes wasn’t #gay.) But really, this guy has no personality. He’s just a hottie:
This was a grandmother figure, based off of my own grandma, G-Money. I called her “Nana Constance.” She’s totes adorable:
Do you all have unfulfilled dreams? Sound off in the comments below! Or tell me how much I suck, because…